Tribune-Courier News Reporter
Venita Fritz contributed to this story.
Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovett told members of the school board this month there are two choices before them to fund a new middle school in the south end of the county and make needed improvements on other facilities: increase taxes or count on state funding which is becoming increasingly unlikely.
Last week Lovett said he and the board believe an increased school tax is the best way to secure funding to ensure students across the county have access to improved and well-maintained buildings.
With that goal, the district will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on September 10 to consider a proposed tax increase which would take the general fund levy from 40.2 cents to 47.1 cents beginning in 2014.
Lovett said the proposed levy will amount to a $50.00 increase on each $100,000 of assessed property.
Lovett said he feels a sense of urgency to begin building up the district’s coffers to be able to afford the projects in the district’s long-range facility plan. He pointed to the rising cost of construction materials, coupled with a declining bonding capacity, as his chief concerns.
“We built North Marshall Middle School for $13 million in 2005. Today, Paducah Middle School, which is very similar in size, is going to cost $21 million. In eight years the price has gone up $8 million dollars on construction,” Lovett said. “That tells me we need to do what we can sooner rather than later to be prepared to upgrade our facilities.”
Lovett said even with the proposed increase Marshall County’s school tax rate will remain near the lowest among counties in the Purchase area, with only Graves and Calloway counties having lower assessments.
The school board appointed a scope committee at its August meeting to consider plans for the new school in south end of the county. The district has already acquired property along Highway 641 with a plan to combine South Marshall and Benton Middle Schools. Board members Mike Wyatt and David Gilland will head the committee.
Brian Harper, principal of South Marshall Middle School, said, “A new school would provide more safety for our students as new buildings can better withstand disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes. I think based on the enrollment of the school and the state of the current building there is a call for a new building, but it’s based on our ability to afford it.”
Benton Middle School Principal Jill Darnall echoed that safety concerns are a factor at her school.
“Our school has had a face lift – new paint and carpet, the building looks really good, but the building’s structure isn’t as safe as what it could be,” she said. “And we’re utilizing every bit of space we have right now,” said Darnall.
Benton Middle School has three buildings which students must travel between for classes. Darnall said it would be safer if the students were in a new school which would allow them to remain under one roof.
South Marshall has an enrollment of 238 students and was built in 1956. Benton Middle School has 250 students and was built in 1964.
Lovett noted the new school could still be years away from becoming a reality, but with the funding provided by a tax increase it would be much sooner than 2025 when state funding might be available. He said he had serious concerns South Marshall Middle would hold up long enough to wait 12 years to act.
Lovett said another priority on the district’s facilities plan is improvements to Sharpe Elementary which is currently utilizing a mobile unit due to space factors.
The first of two advertisements detailing the school district’s plan for a tax increase is in the classified section of today’s Tribune-Courier.